I remember watching colleagues who’d started their PhDs before me, going into their final year and progressing through their writing up. I remember noticing that formerly perfectly sane, entirely calm and collected individuals, seemed to be going a bit potty. This both astonished me and worried me – if these very clever, studious, well organised and entirely capable individuals were starting to lose it under the pressure of writing up, what on earth would it do to me?? Well, now I understand and empathise entirely! I feel like I’m going slightly mad, as the eloquent Freddie Mercury put it. It’s finally happened. Here I am, half way through my writing up. One supervisor left me to take up a job abroad, a couple of months after I started writing up and then, just the other week his replacement has announced he is departing for foreign climes come January. I should be *almost* done by January, but I don’t think I’ll be finished, unfortunately. I don’t really want to be finishing by correspondence but I’ll have no option and I suppose, at least, I will be almost done – I hope.
My responses to the continued pressure is odd. I remember this year in March various colleagues and friends talking about their final projects and dissertations and the two weeks or so of stress this caused. I feel like the writing up period is an entire year of this kind of pressure – and that starts to wear a little thin! My work-guilt has reached and all-time high. I don’t feel I can do anything else that is not work. And, when I do, the guilt gnaws another chunk out of my brain, from my very soul! I am slowly being eaten, consumed and digested by this ‘final project’. I have slowly become rattier and rattier – my patience is thin, my ability to relax is nil, my capacity for giving myself entirely to others is utterly diminished. I never feel like I’m having a proper conversation any more because my mind is always elsewhere. I’m permanently distracted, always thinking of what I need to add to this chapter, or a lead I should really follow up and check. I must appear extremely rude to other people – they must think I’m not listening to them, my vacant, far-away gaze a tell-tale sign of my lack of interest in their conversation. But I can’t help it – I just always have something else on my mind – the same thing, that constantly requires my time, all of it.
I remember when studying for my finals, my parents were redecorating the hallway and kept insisting that I participate in this joyous family activity, that it was essential for me to hang wallpaper and paint ceilings. I was in a constant fury with them at their apparent complete lack of ability to understand the amount of work I had to do. Nobody in my family had attended university before – what would they know about finals? My Dad was constantly cracking jokes which seemed to me to be undermining and belittling the very thing I was striving to achieve and which was so very important to me. I should think that in fact they were trying to distract me, help me relax and take my mind off the finality of the exams which would decide my path in the future. However, in my moments of pressure I was entirely devoid of humour, grumpy and fed up with being told how and when to study, when I should take breaks, when and how I should relax and this resulted in a number of terse conversations. I was so glad when it was all over and I cannot wait for that feeling again. All that is propelling me forward at the moment is the prospect of a trip to Australia next year and the moment when I wake up and don’t have to think about The Thesis.
I have been trying to find ways to push The Thesis out of my head. I tried reading but recently, I don’t seem to be able to concentrate on it – probably because The Thesis is stuck on my brain and won’t let me read. I can’t read mindlessly – when I read, I am always reading for meaning, for connections, intertextuality – I can’t do that with The Thesis on my mind, it seems. This strikes me as strange since, in moments of great crisis, I normally have a voracious appetite for reading. I remember becoming completely addicted to reading after the death of my best friend. I spent all day and all night reading, novel after novel. I would do nothing else. I went on holiday for a week with my parents to a small island where there is nothing to do. I had a book but at the speed I was reading, it didn’t last long. I hadn’t brought anything else to read and literally broke down when I realised it. I finished the book while lying in bed one night, realised I hadn’t another to start, and burst into tears. Suddenly, all the thoughts and memories I’d be reading to exclude came crashing back in and I couldn’t stop them. I was inconsolable and ran to the newsagent in a desperate attempt to find something – they had nothing. In the end my Dad came up with the goods and gave me something about Russians and tractors to read – did the job. I did the same while The Boy’s Dad was dying of cancer – I read and read and read. And got faster and faster – I read On Chesil Beach (an excellent book I’d recommend) in one day, whilst sitting by his bedside as his breath, shallow and sporadic, indicated his impending passing. But suddenly I can’t read!! In the moment when I most need to get away from this one thing, I can’t do it with books! Instead, I’m addicted to American TV series. So far a (very supportive and important) friend has supplied me with Damages, Veronica Mars, Boston Legal, Studio 60, Dexter, Arrested Development, and True Blood. Normally I watch very, very little television – it rarely interests me. However, suddenly, I’m addicted to these series! I *have* to have more and I panic when I run out! Of the series I’d watch – Damages is excellent. It’s a terse, tightly plotted, intense legal drama with twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat, and excellent performances by the likes of Tate Donovan, Ted Danson and Glenn Close – if you haven’t seen it already, get it; you will not regret it for an instant. Boston Legal is brilliant – its 5 seasons are hilarious, emotional, touching and offer very well written drama – I was very sad when I reached the end of it. The Shat (William Shatner) and James Spader make an incredible partnership. It took me a little longer to get into True Blood as I’m not much of a sci-fi fan, and haven’t really bothered with vampire shows before. This show is, almost literally, vampires and sex. That’s about the size of it – it’s very raunchy, slick and cool, but it’s also compelling. It also took me a while to get into Dexter as I struggled to engage with the characters but, as with many TV series, after you’ve watched 3 or 4 episodes, you’re hooked. Dexter season 2 was sensational! I think what’s got me hooked with these is that they involve absolutely no effort from me (aside from keeping my eyes open, which has recently become something of a task). All I have to do is follow the plot. Also, they all last only an hour – so that’s all I have to concentrate for. Finally, they’re all completely removed from the real world and have nothing to do with books – that, I think, is the key.
So, if I appear distracted, zone out while you’re talking to me, seem to be entirely consumed and obsessed by this silly essay I’ve been writing for the past 4 years, please forgive me – normal service will resume in approximately four months. I promise.